KPK History / Pakistan

Ambela Campaign (Buner), 1863, Part 3

The day following the fight the Bunerwals were told they might carry away their dead, and we took advantage of their acceptance of this permission to reason with them as to the uselessness of an unnecessary sacrifice of their tribesmen, which would be the certain result of further opposition to us. Their demeanour was courteous, and they conversed freely with General Chamberlain and Colonel Reynell Taylor, the Commissioner, but they made it evident that they were determined not to give in.

Our position had now become rather awkward; there was a combination against us of all the tribes between the Indus and the Kabul rivers, and their numbers could not be less than 15,000 armed men. Mutual animosities were for the time allowed to remain in abeyance, and the tribes all flocked to fight under the Akhund’s standard in the interests of their common faith. Moreover, there was trouble in the rear from the people along the Yusafzei border, who assisted the enemy by worrying our lines of communication. Under these changed conditions, and with such an inadequate force, Chamberlain came to the conclusion that, for the moment, he could only remain on the defensive, and trust to time, to the discouragement which repeated unsuccessful attacks were sure to produce on the enemy, and to the gradual decrease of their numbers, to break up the combination against us ; for, as these tribesmen only bring with them the quantity of food they are able to carry, as soon as it is finished they are bound to suspend operations till more can be procured.

For three weeks almost daily attacks were made on our position; the enemy fought magnificently, some of them being killed inside our batteries, and twice they gained possession of the ‘Crag piquet,’ the key of the position, which it was essential should be retaken at all hazards. On the second occasion General Chamberlain himself led the attacking party, and was so severely wounded that he was obliged to relinquish the command of the force.

The Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab, being convinced that reinforcements were necessary, in consultation with Colonels Durand. and Norman (the Foreign and Military Secretaries, who had come to Lahore to meet the Viceroy), and without waiting for the sanction of the Commander-in Chief, ordered to the frontier the three regiments which had been detailed for the Viceroy’s camp, as well as the 93rd Highlanders, then at Sialkot ; and when Sir Hugh Rose on his arrival at Lahore heard of the heavy losses the expeditionary force had sustained, and of General Chamberlain being hors de combat from his wound, further reinforcements from every direction were hurried to the front. Subsequently, however, it became a question whether the troops should not be withdrawn altogether, and the punishment of the fanatics given up, the Government of India and the Punjab Government being completely in accord in favouring this view, while the Commissioner of Peshawar, Major James (who had succeeded Reynell Taylor), and Sir Hugh Rose were as strongly opposed to a retrograde movement. The Commander-in-Chief pointed out to the ‘Government that the loss of prestige and power we must sustain by retiring from the Umbeyla Pass would be more disastrous, both from a military and political point of view, than anything that could happen save the destruction of the force itself, and that General Chamberlain, on whose sound judgment he could rely, was quite sure that a retirement was unnecessary.

Unfortunately at this time the Viceroy died at Dharmsala, and the question remained in abeyance pending the arrival of Sir William Denison, Governor of Madras, who was coming round to take over the reins of Government until a successor to Lord Elgin should be sent from England.

In the meantime Sir Hugh Rose was most anxious to obtain exact information respecting our position at Umbeyla, the means of operating from it, the nature of the ground-in fact, all details which could only be satisfactorily obtained by sending someone to report on the situation, with whom he had had personal communication regarding the points about which he required to be enlightened. He therefore determined to despatch two officers on special service, whose duty it would be to put the Commander-in Chief in possession of all the facts of the cam; accordingly, Colonel Adye (Deputy-Adjutant-General of Royal Artillery) and I were ordered to proceed to Umbeyla without delay.

Adye proved a most charming travelling companion, clever and entertaining, and I think we both enjoyed our journey. We reached the pass on the 25th November.

Source of Information/Reference:

Fredrick Roberts, 1st Earl Roberts, Forty One Years In India: From Subalturn to Commander-In-Chief, Volume II, London, Richard Bentley and Sons, 1897, 7-10.

The Chief Editor of the website ( is Jalal Uddin. He hails from Saidu Sharif, Swat. He is M.phil Scholar and his research field is Swat State. He regularly writes on Swat State and its various aspects.
The Chief Editor of the website ( is Jalal Uddin. He hails from Saidu Sharif, Swat. He is M.phil Scholar and his research field is Swat State. He regularly writes on Swat State and its various aspects.
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